The Shape of Evangelical Political Action, Pawlenty Steps Out (Again), More Palin, More Anderson, just more
What About Evangelicals?
Last cycle we talked a lot here about how hard it is to put your finger on who are evangelicals and what is evangelicalism. It’s a theological viewpoint that has spread across multiple religious institutions. It’s a culture of sorts. It’s has been a bit of political movement. Sometimes it’s even an ersatz form of denomination. We looked last week at an article that wondered who spoke for Evangelicals. This week sees a post on the diversity of view amongst Evangelicals on something as rudimentary as creationism and evolution. Some see the Religious Right as strong as ever and some see Evangelicals growing elitist. And of course, there is a great deal of internal religious debate between the political left and right.
There is fascinating empirical evidence that freedom and religion go hand-in-hand: (HT: Instapundit)
Official Chinese surveys now show that nearly one in three Chinese describe themselves as religious, an astonishing figure for an officially atheist country, where religion was banned until three decades ago.
The last 30 years of economic reform have seen an explosion of religious belief. China’s government officially recognizes five religions: Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam and Daoism. The biggest boom of all has been in Christianity, which the government has struggled to control.
All of which brings me to an interesting, if very heady and academic, debate around Godblogging about how Christians should approach changing things:
As a result of this totalization of politics, the evangelical imagination about how to change the world has been sorely stunted. This was most evident in the recent health care debate, where the only question that was pursued by evangelicals of all ages was which statist solution we should implement to the problems that we face.
What’s more, rather than being motivated by a vision of the good and by care for the world, evangelical politics, left and right, has—according to Dr. Hunter—been fueled by ressentiment, or a strong sense of injury. So conservative evangelicals are held captive by stories of secular institutions who refuse to allow the Christian worldview into their discourse about the nature of the world, stories which are used well to raise funds, but which reinforce a culture of negation and hostility toward those with whom we differ.
As a descriptive account of evangelical political culture, this is hard to disagree with. Indeed, the purported leftward shift among my peers away from issues like gay marriage, abortion, and other traditional social conservative issues has been fueled in my estimation less by a serious and substantive disagreement over policy and philosophical issues, and more by the distaste we have at this sort of political world.
There is a danger in describing the political culture of evangelicalism to relativize the political theories that motivate evangelical political action. In other words, because conservative and liberal evangelicals are both driven by anger and a sense of injury, which option we choose is irrelevant for solving the problem of a totalizing politics. Though I don’t think Dr. Hunter would agree with this, it’s not hard to interpret his book that way.
Very interesting points, but I want to put my two cents in on something that I see few addressing. Religious political action is not nearly as effective as most would like it to be. In presidential politics that we follow here, the best it seems to be able to do is spoil – it cannot act decisively. Like a petulant child, tantrums can be thrown, but nothing positive seems to be accomplished. Some of this is the result of acting out of a sense of injury and anger as described above, but much of it also stems from the relative lack of institutionalization that marks the current state of Evangelicalism.
The statistics on the mainline protestant denomination (Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists…) are frightening – they are shrinking. Recently, even Baptists, who are very loosely affiliated, are showing a bit of a decline. What is growing are completely independent congregations – what I have come to call entrepreneurial churches – almost all of which are evangelical in outlook. This is a problem for political action. There is a debate about whether they are in competition with denominations. I am not sure they are on a religious level as most functional denominational congregations are turning very evangelical in style and outlook. As a resource, a new site – Patheos – is looking into the future of the denominations. (HT: Kruise Khronicle) Some find the lack on institutionalization in the entrepreneurial, evangelical church problematic.
Which brings me back to political action. These entrepreneurial, evangelical churches are often idiosyncratic and personality driven. The typically result becasue an individual is identified as “a leader” and he hangs up a church shingle, as it were, and builds a church. Often this leader identification happens in the context of another congregation, driven by another personality, and the new church forms out of a schism of some sort. In other words, these are people that are not good at large movements, they are good at carving out niches’. Put plainly, they make herding cats look easy.
Successful political action by Evangelicals, who are mostly entrepreneurial has occurred when they have joined an effort that is underway, like when they joined with Roman Catholics and Mormons in the Prop 8 fight. They just cannot organize themselves sufficiently to take a lead role. As a denominationalist myself, I hope this bodes well for the denominations. At the moment we seem to continue to tear ourselves apart, but the need for organizational capability does give me hope.
What this observation says is that the approach to Evangelicals that was whispered by the Romney camp a few weeks ago (not so much “punt” as the media would have it, but come join us, we are not going to court you) makes a lot of sense. A national candidate cannot court that many niches. But they can unite behind parade that is moving in the same direction they are. That is essentially what Reagan did in 1980.
There will be some petulance from those that expect to be courted and there will be some tantrums from the unenlightened Mormon-bashers, but all in all this cycle will look very different from the last if one gets past the vitriol and looks at the general trends. Be sure and read past teh deadlines. Which brings me to…
Tim Pawlenty has been making a big splash in the last week or so. The Fix, Politics Daily, and Dan Balz all saw fit to discuss it. Pawlenty is very much where Romney was this time last cycle, minus the religious baggage. However I think Romney’s now large name recognition and the fact that the religious baggage is out of steam means that Pawlenty will never get enough traction to go very far. He’ll finish second unless Palin or Huckabee actually run, but I just don;t see him making an impact this cycle.
Sarah Palin is the top Republican Candidate is how Politico sees it. Some think she is the ultimate running mate for Romney. (Nice note on Huck’s role last cycle in that one too) Interesting idea, but I honestly think she has no desire for the second slot. Some think Republicans are bigger misogynists than they are Mormon haters. The later is an opinion that lends a great deal of credence to the survey CBS reports here:
If former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin decides to jump into the 2012 presidential race, liberals would be thrilled, an unofficial poll released today shows.
As we have said, the left-leaning media will do whatever they can to prevent a Romney candidacy. He is the most serious of the bunch and is the hardest “target.” (I’d love to know what JournoList has to say about Romney?)
Jeb Bush is not running. *Yawn* Only surprizing to silly people.
Romney looks like Ted Danson. *Double Yawn with a Smirk* In other Romney news, the Boston Phoenix, which typically misses no opportunity to make Romney look bad, analyzes proposes changes to the primaries, reasonably, if only in the concluding paragraph. (Ignore the headline.) Chris Cilizza names Romney’s “inner circle.“ There have been intimations that last week’s Palin crack emanated from this circle – NONSENSE!
Finally, a local Utah columnist looks at last week’s impenetrable Anderson/Volokh post and concludes that Romney will still have to deal with his faith this cycle. Yes he will, but it will play very differently than last time. The charges will come almost exclusively from the left and they may, if played properly serve to unite the right against a common foe.
And on a final note…
…and speaking of Mormon stuff, I found this interesting. Faith an immigration is going to get really interesting, and I think the current administration may try to use it to divide us like Huckabee used the Mormon question last cycle. Beware.